European Rugby Champions Cup Preview

The European Rugby Champions Cup teams have been named

The European Rugby Champions Cup begins this weekend with champions Toulon hosting Bath and here we take a look at the the five groups and their opening weekend fixtures.

Pool 1

Almost certainly a three-way battle for qualification as competition debutants Oyonnax may find themselves out of their depth. Record four-time champions Toulouse are by no means favourites in a group that boasts the first Irish winners Ulster and 2014 finalists Saracens. Maximum points against Oyonnax and at home is a minimum for those three if they wish to progress.

Oyonnax (FRA) v Ulster (IRL), Saturday (1400) (all times GMT)

Saracens (ENG) v Toulouse (FRA), Saturday (1730)

Pool 2

Beaten finalists in two of the last three seasons, Clermont have what looks on paper a simple task to reach the quarter-finals. Bordeaux-Begles are another team making their competition debut while Exeter are only in their third appearance and regulars Ospreys haven’t made the knock-out stages since 2010. Clermont will not only be eyeing qualification but also the top seeding for the quarters.

Bordeaux-Begles (FRA) v Clermont (FRA), Sunday (1300)

Ospreys (WAL) v Exeter (ENG), Sunday (1730)

Pool 3

Racing 92 and Northampton will be favourites to do battle for top spot in a group for the second year running. Racing got the better of the English side last year, winning both at home and away, although both progressed. However, Glasgow will provide a strong test a year after making Bath and Toulouse tremble in the pool stages. Dark horses Scarlets have been in good Celtic League form and showed great improvement in this competition over the last two years following their 2012/13 debacle in which they lost all six pool matches. Even so, it would be a huge surprise if they managed to make the quarters.

Racing 92 (FRA) v Glasgow (SCO), Saturday (1515)

Northampton (ENG) v Scarlets (WAL), Saturday (1945)

Pool 4

With Italian whipping boys Treviso in the group, there is a good chance of two teams progressing, which may make for conservative tactics. Munster probably have a slight edge over Leicester, who were second best to Ulster in the pool stages last year. French champions Stade Francais return to the competition after a five-year hiatus and their current league form suggests they will unlikely be able to cause the two giants — Munster and Leicester have both won the competition twice — too many problems.

Leicester (ENG) v Stade Francais (FRA), Friday (1945)

Munster (IRL) v Treviso (ITA), Saturday (1715)

Pool 5

Without a doubt this is the toughest ever pool drawn in Europe’s top club competition. All four teams have previously won the title with reigning champions Toulon and Leinster, both three-time winners, only behind Toulouse in the overall statistics. Toulon needed extra-time to beat Leinster in last season’s semi-finals and these two probably have an edge over the two English sides. But both Bath, last season’s English Premiership runners-up, and Wasps have been improving these last few years in a bid to recapture past glories. Bath are probably a little better-equipped but both will need to make the most of their home matches to stand any chance of progressing from a group in which it would be a surprise if two teams made it into the knock-out stages.

Leinster (IRL) v Wasps (ENG), Sunday (1300)

Toulon (FRA) v Bath (ENG), Sunday (1515)

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